The Queen of Independence: LPX opens up about the power of going it alone and the female voice

Last month, LPX traversed the country playing Falls Festival and a couple of sideshows in what was the New York artist’s Australian debut under that guise. Real name Lizzy Plapinger, she had previously visited our shores as part of the genre-bending, indie-pop duo MS MR. Now she’s smashing it on her own, with a completely independent project that leverages the successes and experiences of rising through the ranks as MS MR, as well as being the co-owner of the record label Neon Gold (home to artists like Charli XCX, Christine and the Queens, Marina and the Diamonds, and at one point, Australia’s own Gotye, Miami Horror and Tigertown).

Last time I sat down with the artist, we were backstage at Coachella 2017. It was the start of LPX as a project, but little was known about what it would become. She hadn’t even played a live show yet; her appearance at Coachella was for the track “Better” with Australia’s own What So Not – a track they’d written in Nicaragua just a few weeks earlier. But in spite of its infancy, she had a clear idea about who LPX was and what that would embody of the stage.

Back in 2017, Lizzy told me, “Matt Shultz from Cage The Elephant is my favourite live performer and I basically just want to be the female version of him. I just want to be bleeding and sweating and ripping my body open on stage. It’s gonna be fucking wild… It’s gonna be really fucking punk and the music is so aggressive and so vulnerable and I’m really trying to commandeer a space in pop that’s so heavily rooted in punk and alt.”

And sitting down in Sydney almost two years later, with her acclaimed EP Bolt in the Blue already released, and more music on the way (you’ve probably heard her latest single “Might Not Make It Home”), her mission statement has not changed. It wasn’t long into the interview before Matt came up again; part of the thinking perhaps that if she keeps mentioning him in interviews, eventually Cage The Elephant will have to take LPX on tour right?

“I just want to be the most wild, loud, eccentric version of myself. I want to be the female Matt Shultz, I want people to have their face melted off at a show. And man, I gotta tell you, I’m pretty proud of myself. I’m definitely bringing it, and I leave every last drop of sweat out on that stage, and I bust my knees open, bloody and raw, regularly. And it’s what I want… it’s what I like from a show.”

“It’s a little bit masochistic, but I do live for it.”

“I’ve been training for these shows. I’ve been working on my stamina, so that I can literally just be running back and forth, for an hour, straight on stage, and… yeah, I’m definitely getting closer to my natural extremes. Man, I want Matt to see the show, so badly. I’m going to say it as many times as it takes. I want to go on tour with Cage the Elephant. I just… I really think that’s where we should live and exist, so I’m really working on it.”

So what does it feel for an artist who had such a clear intent with a project like LPX, to see it all come to fruition?

“I’m doing it,” she proclaims excitedly. “I’m doing it, and it’s so exciting to dream something and work something into reality. And this is such a different beast to MS MR. Everything about it is different. You know, not only obviously the music that I’m making, but to go from being on a major label, and being released and work internationally all over the world to not having management, to not having a label, to being my own A&R, putting together my own sessions, negotiating my own contract, figuring out my own distribution, writing and recording my own videos, doing all of my own marketing.”

“Obviously I have a history of that experience, through both MS MR, and doing that band for six years, and we were heavily involved, but also running a record label for 10 years with Neon Gold. So in some ways, LPX feels like the perfect moment to crystallize all that I’ve learned and poured into this project, but it’s by far the most DIY thing I’ve ever done. And I’m used to working in a partnership. So to sort of really stand on my own two feet, in a fully uncompromising way, is really powerful and liberating. I mean, it’s exhausting, don’t get me wrong.”

I heard a lot of myself in her as she spoke – there’s undeniable passion, a drive, a questionable devotion to doing everything yourself. But I also know how hard it is to have someone in your work life leave. So all I could think to ask was, “Is it hard”? And her response didn’t surprise me.

“It’s really hard… It’s a huge adjustment. Max (of MS MR) and I were active for six years. I’ve been with Derek, my business partner and best friend for Neon Gold for 10. When I first started LPX I’d been with a partner for five years prior to that. So, it’s really the first time I was completely on my own. And, like you say, it’s just hard to get out of your own head and get perspective. And I trust my instincts, and I know I’m good in a team. I know I’m a good team player.”

“But then once they’re gone you realise how many times a day you ask their opinion of, “Do you like this? What’s your two cents?” And whether it’s picking a single or tweaking the mix, just having to be the one that pulls the trigger on the final call. I usually have an idea what the singles are, but during like the mix process, I can get really in my own head. It’s really hard not to be in the room with someone else to pull me out of it. And I’m lucky that the man who’s mixing me, it’s this guy named John O’Mahony, who’s done like LCD Soundsystem. All the Metric Records. Vance Joy. He’s a killer mixer. I’m really grateful that he’s really invested in me and he sort of takes on that role. And I lean in to Max for his two cents. And Derek. I still always want other people’s opinions.”

“But the hardest thing is not having someone to bounce ideas off of. And then, you only have so much time in a day. So, if I had it my way I’d making music or on tour all time. But there are weeks when I have to be in business meetings or just uploading the music to Spotify and sending press emails. And I’m like, “Dude this is boring, these are like the things you hire other people to do”. It’s humbling. And I will say that should I ever be lucky enough to have a bigger team around me, I think I’ll be more grateful and appreciative of everyone else’s efforts. Not that I’ve never not been in the past, but to a whole new degree now that I’ve lived their jobs for them.”

“So I don’t say any of this as a way, as like, “Woe is me,” but it does mean that the successes that I find in doing it, and the successes are marks that I make for myself. Even getting the EP out and done is a mark of success. Being able to get on the Haim tour as support, is a success. Coming to Australia on my own two feet is a huge fucking win for me. I’m the only independent international artist on this bill, and it’s been a dream of mine to play Falls Festival since MS MR.”

“So, any win I get feels that much bigger and greater, because you just know that you were responsible for it. And you know whatever hurdles or obstacles get in your way, of which there are many, you just learn to take it with a pinch of salt, and I think I just feel a little bit calloused, in a positive way. Where I just sort of feel like I can take any hit that comes at me, and there have been a few things that have sort of knocked me off my feet, but every time I’ve dusted myself off and gotten forward, and I’m really proud of myself.”

“I’ve learned a lot from the business side, I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer and artist within this project, and in this space. I said I was going to do it, and I’m doing it. And not only that, I feel like it’s exactly what I hoped and dreamed it would be. And I keep growing and the music keeps getting better. I’ve got a second EP that’s coming out in a month or two, and another new single coming out in a month, and I’m just being really hard on myself. One foot in front of the other, nose to the grindstone. And I don’t know where this is taking me, but I’m gonna give it absolutely everything. And in the meantime, I’m just grateful for every moment of it.”

I suggested it’s not something she could have achieved right out of the gate, should MS MR not have preceded it. But then there’s also the choice to go down a different musical path, one person less traveled these days.

“Totally. Totally. And there’s something a little bit crazy for me about making alternative music. As you and I were just talking about, there isn’t really a lane for it. It’s the least popular genre on all streaming services. Hip-hop is sort of at the forefront of everything, which is one of the reasons it’s so exciting to be in Australia, where guitar music feels alive and kicking, louder than ever, which is amazing. So it’s a little bit of an odd choice for me to be going down this road, but it’s so honestly bound to the bands and artists that I grew up on and I loved. And I love the current alternative landscape… Gang of YouthsInterpol still being in the game, and I love Young Fathers who feel like a really new incarnation of ‘alternative’.”

“There’s still those amazing pockets, but it is still so male dominated. So it’s exciting to see Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail, and Mitski, coming out the gate, Bully, Hayley from Paramore, obviously a powerhouse. But, one of the things that I care about most, in this industry, is just representation of female voices and female artistry.”

“And I think the more representation of different female voices you have within one genre, the more it diversifies and opens the gate for the next generation.”

“You know, to be able to know that there is a lane or space where you can occupy to see yourself reflected in the art of others, that’s super important to me, and I feel like I wouldn’t be making what I’m making without seeing Karen O, from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or Shirley Manson in Garbage… So, to feel the cast net widening so aggressively, it’s really important to me.”

So, looking at the next generation of artists, female or otherwise, who are coming up and looking at what you’re doing from both a musical and independent level, I asked what advice she had for that next generation who are looking at maybe doing things their own way?

“I fully, fully encourage it… a mistake I feel like I made when I first started out, you’re new to an industry … it could be any industry, but obviously for me, music, is you love music, you work really hard. I mean, you have to work really fucking hard. So if you wanna do this you gotta be prepared to work. It is a job and it’s a grind.

That pays terribly.

“Terribly. So, you better fucking love it. Because what you get out of it is that fulfillment. It’s not financial, I’ll tell you. You know. But the thing that I … A mistake I made is, I think I put a lot of stock in people who were older than me who had been in the industry longer. And there is definitely something to be said for taking advice from people around you and asking questions. And I think that’s important and building your community and be nice to everyone. It’s so much about networking. But I wish that sometimes I had trusted my own instincts a little bit more than the person who had been in the industry 10 years telling me what’s gonna work or what isn’t gonna work.”

“I just don’t think anyone knows better than you. And if you’ve got a gut feeling about the music that you’re making or your friend is making and you wanna work it or you have an idea to start a festival or you wanna do a TV show and you wanna curate all the music. Whatever it is, it sounds so like Hallmark card. But really trust yourself. I really think that makes a huge difference. And I’m so lucky my life has shook the way it has with MS MR and LPX and Neon Gold. But were many moments where my life could’ve taken a different turn earlier had I just believed in myself a little harder. So, yeah. Trust your instincts.”

Or the other way as well. I mean, god knows we all wake some mornings and go, “What the hell am I doing?”

“Totally. And that’s really helpful to hear from my heroes, whether they’re heads of a major label or in my mind the most successful band of the world, I think everyone has those moments of, “Fuck, should I be doing this anymore?” And honestly I have those moments multiple times in a say. The emotional rollercoaster that is this industry, it is not for the faint of heart. And I feel broken down so many times and really deflated and you just … I really think if you really love music or whatever you’re doing, you just find the thing that keeps you going and it just is.”

“But I think perseverance is key. And I think a lot of the bands who have made it aren’t always necessarily the best bands but they really just didn’t get thrown sideways when something got in their way. I think the people who can stick it out the longest possible will eventually succeed. And it’s amazing to see that with someone like Mitski or X Ambassadors or Mumford and Sons who were around for years before having the success they had. It takes forever. And if you burn right, fast and hot, it probably ends that way soon. So, the long game is the tougher road but I really think the payoff can be greater.”

Good music doesn’t happen without a struggle.

“Totally. And I also think like we live in this culture of living and dying by singles. But I just care less and less and less about that. And it is more about the people who just continue to release bodies of work. And just stay on their bullshit. Just don’t let anything else affect that. I think that’s really rad. Mac Demarco, an album here. That’s the way to do this, in my opinion.”

With “Might Not Make It Home” released last year as the first single off her second EP, she indicated that the next single is just weeks away, and the EP won’t be far behind. Which may surprise some given the last EP only dropped last year, and these came out of their own writing and recording sessions. But LPX isn’t planning to take this project slowly; and why should she?

“What’s really cool about being out on your own, is I’m really free to write and release as I’m growing, I don’t need to wait too long. (If I had a big team around me) I don’t know if I would have as much freedom to evolve musically as quickly as I am. And I don’t think that I would be able to release quite as freely as I am. ‘Cause even … I’ve got the bones of the third EP. I’m almost done writing it. And even that is taking like a pretty different twist too. And I love the idea that these three works would sort of start a conversation and through triangulating people would understand who I am. And then the idea is an album. So, I’m cooking. I’m just going.”

“But I just wanna tour as much as possible. I wanna be out in Australia as much as possible. This is unabashedly the most important market to me.”

“It’s definitely where I feel most support and love from an audience and Triple J. It came early for MS MR down here. I think I’m just really lucky to have built those relationships and I think naturally the kind of music I’m making makes sense for what’s working out here but just such a curious and supportive music culture out here. It’s really awesome.”

“So, it was always my plan to release a second EP, sort of as soon after the first, so following it the next year, almost a year. It’s definitely, it’s a little bit of a left turn, it’s definitely still obviously within alternative. The first EP really pays homage, I think, to early 2000 bands, especially New York and English bands I grew up on. And this second EP, feels like I’m a little bit closer to U2, Joshua Tree, New Order, Queen Vibes. So a little bit more synth, my voice isn’t quite as aggressive, it’s sort of another side to my voice, which I’m really enjoying about exploring about writing. I think I’m going to call the EP Junk of the Heart. And I like to think of the EP as sort of like a modern, alternative John Hughes soundtrack. It’s like super romantic, it’s really nostalgic, it’s very much about its feels.”

Naturally, this means every song has to end with a slow motion fist pump right? Turns out you wouldn’t be wrong.

“Oh my god. There’s this song called “Black and White” and the chorus is such a fucking festival fist pump moment, which is pretty much what I’m imagining any time I’m writing. I’m just dreaming of, “If I was the biggest band in the world, what’s the song I would want to be singing on stage and having you sing back at me?” That is definitely one of those tunes. So, I’m really excited to share that and have this audience evolve and grow with me as I’m evolving the whole time.”

So what were Lizzy’s favourite albums of 2018?

“My favourite albums of 2018, I loved the Kacey Musgraves record, loved that that’s such a universal record for everyone. Like cool, uncool, I don’t care whether you like pop, punk, electro, reggae, I feel like everyone can get behind that record. I love Amen Dunes. Have you heard that record? Can’t recommend it enough. This record’s called Freedom, it’s one of my favourites of last year (HERE). I love Miya Folick, she has an album called Premonitions (HERE). I’m obsessed with her voice. And there’s this girl, under 1,000 plays for every song on Spotify, don’t know very much about her, cannot get enough of her. Her name is Hayley Coupon.”

What a name.

“He album is called Wire and Rope… it is hands down one of my favourite records of the year. Unbelievable writer and singer. I mean, so timeless. I’m not working it with Neon Gold, I have no connection to it, I’m just a fan. And I just really want to see her win. I don’t really know anything about it, It’s just bewitching. I think she’s originally from New York, I think she lives in LA. I’m trying to think of like how to describe it. It’s just so classic, feels sort of Joni Mitchell, Patsy Cline. Like really classic. And I think … someone told me all of Fiona Apple’s band players played on the record with her. And for free, basically because they were just so blown away by her voice. I super recommend it. So, those are some of my favourite records.”

LPX’s EP Bolt in the Blue is available now, as is her latest single “Might Not Make It Home”. Follow all her music and musings over on Facebook.

Photos by Bruce Baker of LPX at Falls Festival Byron Bay.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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